Sunday, 22 October 2017


Matthew rose his head involuntarily from the pillow as his eyes flew open. He had been contemplating within as to whether it was still too early to get up or not. He gets this luxury of time to sleep anytime he got off that strenuous demanding work of his. A week is good enough time. Well, that’s all he could afford for the meantime. Inasmuch as he needed something to force him up, it would definitely not be the forceful bang of the door as it hit the door frame. What went wrong again? He sat up, with the duvet still covering a better part of his tall form as Udale trudged into the room. She looked angry… or frustrated? No one can correctly tell whatever the expression on her face bore. She moved with the venom of a wounded tiger, muttering many inaudible things to herself with each step. Thankfully for Matthew, she decided to increase the volume of her voice on getting closer to the bed. He let out a loud sigh.
“For whatever reasons she doesn’t wanna go to school” she murmured almost inaudibly so much so that Matthew had to strain his ears to hear what she said as she collapsed onto the same side of the bed he is sitting. In fact, if Matthew hadn’t promptly removed his legs, they would both have had a case of multiple fractures to attend to at the hospital today with the way the fat woman landed on the bed.
“What’s the problem, Baby?” Matthew asked, his eyeballs like they would pop out of their cage in no time. This subtle approach should work at the moment, right? He’s gat to tread with caution if not with the way she woke him up abruptly, he would have given her a bit of his mind.
“I get up as early as possible just to make breakfast for that little fellow to take along. She does nothing for me in this house, more especially in the morning save to dress up and enjoy a luxurious drive down to school, only for her to be… to be…” she started stammering and her husband didn’t blink the curious gaze he cast on her all along.
“For her to be… to be what?” Matthew asked when the repetition was becoming sickening.
Udale swallowed.
“She is still curled up in her bed at this time…” she turned to look at the large wall clock above her dressing mirror as she said this, turning Matthew’s attention there as well. “…as if that was not enough, she told me she can’t go to school because of what happened yesterday. Can you imagine that nonsense?” She asked, not expecting any response actually. Her face contorting in a fiery glaze of anger all over again as the scene she just witnessed few minutes ago tore at her mind as it replayed in her head.
Matthew heaved another audible sigh, this time, everyone could feel the relief literally written all over his face. He will never be able to completely understand women after all. All these charades and behaviours because of whatever Laibe said to her? Incredible. He could bet his life that the little girl couldn’t have been rude to her aunty after all. Perhaps they were more things frustrating his dear wife this beautiful morning.
Udale looked on expectantly at him after finishing her last line and that got him confused. Was he supposed to say something? Ok! Like, don’t worry Honey, we would deal with that little girl? or, I told you not to allow her stay here in the first place? What exactly is he supposed to say at the moment. He didn’t know what she wanted him to say or how he should best react. Finding an idea of what to do, he left a playful smile dancing on his face as he pulled the duvet off his legs, slipping into his bedside slippers, he managed to bring himself to his feet. Udale whose eyes have been following all his actions, from moving to the edge of the bed to standing up, like her eyes controlled him continued watching in astonishment, wondering whatever Matthew was up to right now.
Oh no! She didn’t just report Laibe to him, did she? Even though she had seen her husband loosen up a bit yesterday and his normally cold glare at the poor girl brightened up a little too, she shouldn’t have come to give this report. It’s too early to soil the good relationship that’s just about sprouting up. What was she thinking?
“I’ll be back”
Matthew’s soft voice now heightened her worries even more. She couldn’t have landed her niece in another trouble so early, could she? She held her head with both hands; her hair was neatly packed in a hair net so it was very easy to hold it as one piece. She figured out the wisdom in following after Matthew or not when she heard the door close behind him gently.
Laibe turned her face towards the direction of the door. She was backing the entrance before now; before the door creaked open actually. She faced the wall all along, since her aunty left the room, hoping she would see something soothing in those yellow painted walls and if possible penetrate to go hide in there with a little more stare. Her mind couldn’t get off the guilt she felt yesterday. The guilt that got her uncomfortable so much so that she had to sneak from school before closing time. Yea! It was a dangerous thing she did: running through bush paths just so the security men that manned the iron school gate or any of the senior prefects don’t get to see her. She had an idea what the punishment would be if she got caught trying to escape from school. She once saw a student that was asked to dig his height and another given a large portion of grass to level. The punishment. Yes! Indeed, the punishment. It would even be worse than the punishment she carried overwhelming guilt for right now.
Aunty Tee had ordered all her classmates out of the class when she didn’t want to point out any of the people that tormented her. The principal made them lay flat on the carpeted grasses in front of the class and as if that was not enough, she ordered that Mr Jibrin gave then seven strokes of the cane each – boys on their buttocks and girls on their backs. Laibe’s feet went cold and she felt like urinating in her pants, from the point where she stood behind the principal watching regretfully, as her classmates wailed out in pain. She couldn’t bear it. She is used to being scolded, beaten and punished for other people’s misbehaviours and not the other way round. She covered her ears with both hands as well just maybe she could prevent the agonizing screams from the victims of the punishment from getting to her ears. Whenever Aunty Tee turned back to glance in her direction, she readjusted herself. Whenever a tear rolled down her little cheek, she quickly wiped at it with the back of her palm. She literally started feeling feverish on her feet. Everybody was ordered back to the class after the punishment but she couldn’t enter. She gave a flimsy excuse of wanting to use the toilet and since her seat was just beside the window, she squeezed out her bag through the frame immediately Aunty Tee and the other teachers turned their attention away from her, addressing her class. She ran off in the direction of the toilet. She was merely halfway the toilet when she luckily saw the school gate open because the toilet was almost perpendicular to the direction of the gate. Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, she had dashed into a bush path she usually sees some of her classmates taking after school while she enjoys the comfort of her aunt’s drive home.
Whether she had lost her way or not, she wasn’t certain at some points. She kept moving on the tiny deserted road, fast and furiously, as her heart beat hard against her chest. There was no way she could face the hateful look that would be left greeting her on the faces of her mates if she entered back into the classroom with them. She dreaded it; she dreaded rejection with everything in her and just when she thought sleeping over it would completely clear the guilt off her memory, it rather escalated by the time she got up this morning. Guess her aunty is particularly mad at her because the older woman encouraged her after she narrated the story to them yesterday. Aunty Udale told her that punishing stubborn kids is a normal part of the drilling process and that it was no fault of hers, but all those didn’t console her. She felt like she had put some innocent kids in pain and agony unjustly.
“Reconsidering your dreams of becoming great already?” Matthew’s voice spoke out after staring at her for nothing less than five minutes. He released his hand from the door knob and took giant steps fully into the room till he came near her bed. Laibe readjusted immediately while staring at him unable to bring her brain to making any sense out of the first words her uncle is ever saying to her.
Taking his seat beside her in a way that he was sited squarely before her, he continued, “In the pursuit of greatness, strive as much as possible not just to be well-known but to be worth-knowing…” He softly placed his large hands on her little shoulders with a smile firmly plastered on his face. “…you know a wise man by name Langstone Hughes once said ‘Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly’, and you my little girl cannot achieve any level of this greatness or great dreams as the case may be, by curling up yourself on the bed the morning you should be preparing to go to school” he added calmly.
Everything he said was now beginning to appeal to Laibe’s senses. She had things to say in response but she always had this strong limitation - how to express herself in English. She is still upcoming in that aspect and inasmuch as her aunty is giving her credit for rapid improvement, she didn’t want to ruin this swell time she had dreamt of, the one week her uncle deserted his own house. Maybe that was what she thought anyway. Not until he came to her school yesterday afternoon, she was beginning to feel like she was responsible for her uncle’s disappearance from the house for such a long time. She finally decided to respond. She wanted to say she was scared, she wanted to say perhaps her dreams of greatness was just a mirage and that she didn’t deserve such ambience of good dreams. She wanted to say she cannot tolerate rejection, not from him, not from her aunty let alone from her classmates, but all she wanted to say remained within her and the only thing she could come up with was a nod. And another nod, and still an additional nod.
“You will go to school now, Ok? You have less than fifteen mins to prepare. Your aunty is waiting.” Matthew said and got up, patting her back. He knew and could connect to exactly what Laibe was feeling at the moment. Even worse than such has he felt in recent times but first things first.
Laibe couldn’t believe that her uncle had talked her into going to school as much as she couldn’t believe her uncle had talked to her at all. She felt happy, and the whole emotional thrills threw her off the bed to her feet. She all of a sudden felt this strange boldness running down her spine and the only thing she could picture right now was walking down majestically to her seat in class.
Matthew paused at the door and turned hastily like he forgot something and yea he did. He didn’t know but he felt the propelling force to say it as it came up in his mind. While still considering if it was the right time to say this, he voiced out before he could stop himself.
“I’ll take you to Lokoja… where? Ehnmm…” he kept a finger on his lips thoughtfully, “Yes. Confluence Beach. I’ll take you to confluence beach during your next holidays, that’s only if you do well.” He flashed his set of beautifully arranged dentition at her and closed the door behind him gently.
Laibe stood glued to the floor all of a sudden like someone awaiting a death sentence. She tried pinching herself to consciousness. She needed to be sure it wasn’t a dream at the end of it all. Or, maybe it was a dream coming true? She heard the alarm clock her aunty set up on her reading table ring and her eyes instantly turned in that direction. 7:00am? She slipped into her slippers and hurried into the bathroom. If she does not cross the school gate in less than thirty minutes’ time, it would be better she didn’t go to school at all today.
Matthew got back to the bedroom with a rather pretentious smile dancing around his face. He had to smile at least, with the way his wife was eagerly sitting on the bed and waiting for him, he could guess as perfect as he would his name what was going through her mind.
“She would be ready in 10. Please help her not to go late” he said, squeezing her shoulder as he took his seat beside her. He felt Udale’s eyes widen, like some freshly baked ShopRite doughnuts and that didn’t surprise him at all. She must have not expected what he did again, as usual. He’s been all shades of dynamism lately.
Udale took a deep breath and got up, heading towards the bathroom door. She will never understand her husband, that’s certain. The man is so full of diversities, or… is it mischievousness? She can’t seem to wrap her mind around the particular name to give to what is popping up on her mind as she lazily dragged down the door knob.
“Again, if we must get used to having a child in this house…” Matthew started and she turned her head involuntarily, still holding firmly to the door knob “…if we must get used to having a child in Laibe, then we must get used to becoming parents and you especially must master the art of being a mother.” He said. That smile was still playing somewhere around his face as he spoke, though it’s a little milder now. Udale’s tongue felt tied, she couldn’t even say anything as that bunch of timely truth sank deep into her blood. She swallowed and entered the bathroom, closing the door gently behind her.
Matthew’s face contorted into a frown immediately his wife was out of sight. Like, the initial smile he’s been wearing was a mask that he just pulled off his face. He didn’t understand the meaning of this thing and the more he tried to justify himself, the more he keeps drowning more and more. He thought of a thousand things to do. For once… and most especially on this matter, his brain is failing him and he disliked that with all his might. He needed his head to think now more than ever before.
He stretched out and picked up his phone from the side stool. He looked on at it with all concentration for some minutes before deciding to do the only thing that came across as reasonable to his mind. He typed a short message, scrolled his contacts list till he got to the number he needed and tapped on the ‘send’ button. Dropping the phone like it burnt his palm, he quickly readjusted on the bed when he felt his wife was about coming out.
Episode 17
Joshua let out a rueful smile as a message popped up on his phone, especially that the customized message tone could only be one person . He left off the laptop on which he was typing and picked up his Nokia 8800 Gold edition. Opening the message, his smile started fading off slowly till it faded away. He had been in here right from the early hours of this morning, specifically, over four hours ago. Ever since the state decided to ‘diversify economy’ as a strategic way of completely eliminating poverty, his ministry has become close to the busiest amongst all other government parastatals in the state. A lot of pressing demand is laid on his shoulders at the moment, so much so that he had to, as a matter of urgency, equip the home office that had just been there useless during his first tenure – that’s his first four years of living in this apartment, one of the very many duplexes in the commissioners’ quarters. He needed to work late into the night and some other times as early as possible. Travelling the long distance from Ganaja to GRA and Adankolo area where the government house and ministry of Agriculture is respectively wouldn’t be convenient at all. His family - wife and two kids - also needed the attention and availability of their husband and father in that sense. He even got a bit relieved and with more time on his hands to work ever since his wife travelled to the UK. It’s been over a month now and he would prefer she stayed back a bit longer if given opportunity to suggest. But women? He had better not raise that suggestion in the first place, else it would arouse some awkward suspicions in her mind. The type of suspicion that would pull her into the flight heading to Nigeria the very next day. It had happened before, so he could tell. Moreover, the children are in a standard boarding school in Abuja, he has almost nothing to share his time at the moment save his job and of course, morning mass, strictly and only on Sunday mornings. The maids now almost serve him breakfast, lunch and dinner right on this table in the home office. Yes, he needn’t go to the real office all the time except maybe his attention is unavoidably needed or the governor has an emergency meeting with the commissioners, him especially. He couldn’t have prayed for a better timely assistance as this in Mat, as he fondly called Matthew his dear friend turned brother.
You know the mistake people make is in thinking that it is the most knowledgeable folks in a particular ministry that gets elected… or appointed, as the case may be, head over it. Well, everyone may have to wake up to the fact that politics is real and it’s a game for only the smart lads. Joshua knew he needed an intellectual support if he must meet up with the expectations of not just His excellency, the executive governor of the state as it were now, but the populace most importantly. He literally leaped for joy when he asked Matthew to come assist and the latter obliged without hesitation. Seriously? The Matthew he knew would never give up teaching for anything under the heavens. Someone, himself and other of their friends including Boyega almost prostrated to beg, so he would consider picking up the robust offer from Chevron that year. Matthew blatantly refused. They all began to think that Matthew’s case was becoming spiritual, or ‘ma to ubi kwunyi’ as the Igala people would refer to someone who is perceived to have been bewitched from his village. It was one irritating part of the only man he called his friend, even when Matthew finished with the most-sought-after 5.0 CGPA. How many persons graduate with that kind of distinction grade in our real world without sorting or cheating? Yet he decided to follow a long standing irreconcilable passion of his, teaching… “common teaching” as his friends teased him with. Matthew proved a point with it anyway, a big point that sealed the mouths of all of them put together, including Josh in the long run. He had made so much living and impact especially after he bagged his Ph.D and picked up a lecturing offer at the State’s College of Education.
Bearing all these in mind when he wanted to call for assistance, Josh didn’t know how it would sound to Matthew asking him to come take up a managerial role in one of the big departments of the ministry – the extremely exhaustive Service Department at that. Most tedious and energy draining. Joshua couldn’t believe his ears when his friend told him that he had resigned from lecturing months earlier.
“You are kidding me, aren’t you?” Josh responded unable to hide the shocked expression on his face.
When Matthew nodded in the affirmative and reiterated that it wasn’t a joke after all, Josh had to press further so as to find out whatever must have chased Matthew from the only fuel that drove his passion in life. He couldn’t help in the end but applaud Matthew’s bold choice as the best he could make to salvage this particular situation. Maybe if he were to be in Matthew’s shoes, he wouldn’t have been able to give up everything just like that. Not when he gave up all the mouth-watering and exciting offers in order to stick to his passion earlier. Well, for Joshua, everything was actually working for his good from all points of view and even when Matthew had doggedly refused to come and live in Lokoja - in a massive house attached to his portfolio - Josh didn’t mind. Getting the work done and in time was all that mattered anyway.
He dropped his phone on the table and as if after a second thought, picked it up again. Staring at his wallpaper – his family picture , like he was seeing that picture for the first time ever, he dropped the phone again. He was torn amidst decision making and just sitting aloof.
“Josh! It keeps getting messier by the day”
Josh swallowed as he read out loud from the phone he is picking up for the fourth time already. Abandoning his laptop, he relaxed into the swinging seat and let the wheel of the armed chair rock him from side to side gracefully. He couldn’t be less concerned at the moment. At least, if not for anybody, this is Matthew. Matthew has grown beyond being a friend to him, Matthew is blood. He hit hard on the table in front of him in frustration, careful not to spill his cup of coffee though. Nothing had ever come across so unable to be tackled between the both of them ever before. They’ve always been this immaculate duo; at least if Josh couldn’t proffer solution, Mat would and the situation is resolved before it even becomes a situation. This case is just so different and he hate to admit that Matthew is… rather, they both are truly in a deep mess after all.
Picking up his phone, he considered replying to the text, but he didn’t know how best to compose the words. Whether the words were too large to be confined in the seemingly small message box or that he had difficulty with expressing himself correctly on this matter via writing, he didn’t know which was which at the moment. He only know that he needed to respond to his friend and there was no way he would communicate exactly what was going on in his mind via that limited character allowance of a space called textbox. He thought to call,
“What if Udale is with him?”
“How do I talk?” he asked no one in particular as he discarded this second option as well. The air condition now feels like it’s releasing lighter coals of fire as his mind tore his head into shreds.
Laibe sank into her seat. It is a padded metallic seat and for the first time in the one week she had been in this school, the chair felt like a cushioned sofa underneath her buttocks. Her both hands crossed underneath the little sprouting outgrowths on her chest as she stared vacantly at the teacher taking… whatever the young man was taking. She was not listening to him in the very least, she couldn’t even see him at all. Her mind had been wavering like a ferry on a stormy sea from one thought to another, over and over again and even when she admonished herself to concentrate, she lost interest seeing that the teacher was narrating more of his personal life’s stories than the Business Studies he was paid to deliver. The school management won’t know this when commenting on general student’s performance at the end of the term. It would be a case of massive failure of students on one particular subject, not knowing that it is the new teacher that spends the two hours allotted to him explaining the story of creation and politics. He, the teacher, is not part of Laibe’s issues right now. She hasn’t been able to erase the events of this morning off her brain, inasmuch as she needed to and tried.
Uncle Matthew promised taking her to Confluence beach, that’s probably one of the best things she had heard in the entirety of her life. The first and only time she heard anything about that beach was when a corp member posted to Ofabo some three years ago mentioned it. ‘Ajuwaya’ as the villagers fondly called the corp member was living in one of Baba’s free rooms at the back of the main building. As a worthy elder in the village, Baba bears the sole responsibility of catering for every visitor that came visiting or on an assignment, especially when related to academics. Laibe, even though out of primary school then and didn’t have money to proceed to secondary school, Corper Monica took her through some private lessons at home within the space of the one year she served her fatherland. Corper Monica taught the students in the senior class English Language at the only community owned Emodu Community Grammar school, Ofabo. Laibe would have the tutorials with her in the evenings on returning from her sales of garri at the market and ultimately fixing dinner up for her beloved grandfather. It was at one of those extra lessons that Corper Monica asked Laibe to mention three spot for tourist attractions in the Kogi state. Laibe looked on dumbly for many minutes and when she saw Laibe was clueless about it, she listed Confluence beach, Ajaokuta steel company, Mount Parti, Igala Unity square, Anyigba, amongst others. It has been on the young girl’s mind ever since then that she would surely be presented with an opportunity to visit some… if not all these attraction sites in her own state one of these days. That’s why it’s feeling like she won an award when her uncle told her he would take her there, Confluence Beach – where river Niger and river Benue met and are still meeting up until now. Little wonder, Kogi is called ‘The confluence state’. She feels thrilled. Shudders ran down her spine at the thoughts alone.
The condition attached though!
A lot of intelligent students abound in this class, in fact it appears as if Aleka Academy had selected all the best brains from the Primary schools around to form this her class most especially. The way children she knew and so certain she was far older than spoke English with fluency as though they had chewed and swallowed the language, marvelled her. However was she going to do well? What is even her uncle’s definition of doing well in the first place. Something within her has placed her in the last position even before she would write her first continuous assessment test that’ll be due in a week’s time.
Just as she thought about how she was going to intensify efforts and put in all her best to do well, she felt the eyes of the class piercing through her skin. She sighed deep initially to be sure everything was alright or perhaps it was her brain messing with her all over again. Hell no! She rolled her eyes sideways, like a thief does when trying to scout for a sneak hole, everybody’s eyes were on her again. When she looked up and saw the teacher staring in her direction also, her heart set out into an uncontrollable undulating rotation of a pendulum at high frequency.
Oh God! This is not happening again, she prayed silently in her heart. She meant every word of the prayer. She was grateful no student had scorned her when she got to school this morning even when she was almost late. Everyone looked up as she walked into the classroom and as though they were allowed limited viewing access to her as an aftermath of yesterday’s general punishment, they all returned their eyes and fixed it on the book before them. She gathered little boldness as she approached her seat walking like they were some pins littered on the cemented floor that she was stepping on. Thankfully, her seat was the first table to the right so it wasn’t hard getting there after all. It only became hard believing that Helen, one of the arch leaders of her dreaded mockery group had moved her bag to the same table.
“Laibe Godwin, we are waiting for you…”
Her teacher’s voice scared the living daylight out of her, worsening the condition of her already pressured heart.
“Uhmm?” she exclaimed involuntarily, giving him a questioning blank look.
She expected the students, her classmates that is, to go all up in thunderous rounds of mocking laughter, jesting and throwing hands in the air as at other times, but no one did. None could even do anything as mild as clearing of throat. This got Laibe even more horrified than usual. Maybe they should just start laughing, or dragging the table noisily over the floor. Maybe the biggest boy behind should slam the table and begin the crow for laughter. Maybe, something other than this silence should just happen. She would prefer it a thousand times over right now if the whole place got filled with what she was used to – ridicule. But everywhere remained quiet, dead silence. In her moment of confusion, she saw Helen put up her hand.
“Let me bail her out sir,” Helen said calmly when the teacher saw her hand and turned back in their direction.
Laibe’s eyes almost dropped out on the floor with the way she stared unbelievably at Helen who got up with so much grace and boldness to answer the question.
“Adam Smith defines capital as “That part of a man’s stock which he expects to afford him revenue”, so to a layman, Capital can be defined as the first amount of money used to start up a business that would yield profit.” Helen responded, with a smile plastered on her fair face.
“Clap hands for her” the teacher said, sounding very impressed. Laibe worried that his eyes were still on her.
As the children clapped, Laibe’s hands appear to be locked in each other with shock. She looked so stunned that moving her hands against each other was heavier that lifting log of woods. The members of the class were beginning to act strange; they were comfortable with her which was one of the things her uncle had predicted would happen, Helen is sticking out for her, no one is laughing at her anymore. The man must be right with everything all the time then.
“Laibe Godwin…” The teacher called her again and this time she jerked up to her feet with some daring boldness.
“Yes sir!”
“You would follow me to the staff room after this class… is that clear?” The question came loudly like resounding gong in her ears. Of course, her opinion isn’t required. She must. As a matter of fact, it’s a command. Though the teacher’s voice sounded calmer than the initial time, she still had cause to worry about the urgent summon to the staff room.
Episode 18
“Nurse Abigail, well done o” Jane waved with one hand as the other held the phone to her ear. Even after they had all been cautioned not to address each other on first name basis and instead use each person’s surname while at work, Jane seem to be the only person still faulting that order. When asked why, she bluntly says, ‘their surnames are too indigenous and hard to pronounce’. Being the ‘baby’ of the hospital, everyone just let it slide. It’s even good enough she has the courtesy to put ‘Nurse’ before the name. Who would kill her if she decides to address everyone only by their names? Perhaps she would say then that adding ‘nurse’ is too long for her.
The two nurses flashed a coy smile at her in return before she continued wriggling her waist as she walked out of the nurses Bay.
“Your colleagues again right?”
Jane smiled as the expected question came through her ears.
“Yea! I saw this coming and trust me, you never disappoint me. Anyway, I needed to greet them”
“Of course you do!” Max responded with sarcasm. His voice went so low, it almost became a whisper. Jane giggled as she leaned her back against a pillar just in front of the building.
“Tell me you are jealous of my colleagues again, Max?” Jane asked, it came like a statement though.
“C’mon! Why not? They get the luxury of seeing and being with my dazzling angel all day long while I wallow here in loneliness…” Max muttered, sounding sober and pathetic already. So pathetic a tone that it got Jane laughing real loud.
“Max! Maximillian! You have to stop already. I don’t want people thinking I’m losing it o. Don’t forget this is an hospital.” she cautioned, holding her ear with her hand as though he could see her from where he was. She was still smiling. Her innocent, charming and pure smile… Guess, everything had a touch of Max in it after all. She cleared her throat as something was about choking her as a result of excessive laughter and continued,
“That’s the price you pay when you are too much in a hurry! I mean, who becomes a consultant at twenty-six, Max?” Her eyeballs rolled upwards, staring at the ceiling as though addressing it.
“Maximilian Eneojo O…”
“Keep shut my friend!” Jane ordered playfully before he could finish calling his surname as boisterous as he started. She knew that would be his answer, it has always been his answer actually.
Max is everything in one these days, to her, with her and for her. It really feels adorable not only that they had known each other for like forever but also that they would live together forever and a day more.
“ Seriously, Goddess…” Max started. Jane blinked her eyes at the mention of ‘Goddess’; she had warned Max in futility to stop addressing her that way. The young man, on his own part, feels and keeps insisting that she is too beautiful to be a mortal so much so that inasmuch as Jane wished they was something she could do, she had to live with the name for the main time, if not her whole life.
“… I have no regrets reaching the peak of my career at this astounding young age actually. Especially that everyone can justify me, that’s what happens with having extremely elite parents. Not as though your parents helped matters as well. It’s fulfilling though! People see you and share personal issues with you. Goddess, there are lots of tales for you. Serious, exciting ones. That would be whenever you come here or when I come down. I doubt my own side though…”
“And why is that?”
“Well… you have more time in your hands at the moment and…”
“ Work huh?” Jane cut in on him and she waited for a reply only to hear him take a deep breath in. She continued,
“…Look here Max!” she dragged the last alphabet in the name with emphasis that it almost sounded like M-aaxe, “…You have to start making conscious choices, sensitive decisions between this relationship and your job!”
“C’mon Goddess, we are not going there again right?” Max sounded very much uneasy as he said these words.
“We are o. We are going there. In fact, we are already there big time, the earlier the better and…” Jane started getting loosed slowly, taking a good posture that would enable her vent out her frustration better but she barely finished the words in her mouth when Max interrupted her,
“Oh! Not… again! I… am… sorry… Goddess! I have to go now…” it was hard letting those words off his throat.
“What?” Jane yelled involuntarily, before she could stop herself.
“I’ll make it up to you my Queen. I promise…” he motioned the nurse making eyes sign language in front of him to go open the door, “…and… I am not joking… Believe me… Take care right! I love you” Max fumbled those words off his mouth like they were hot burning coals that he needed to get rid of as soon as possible. He waited for few seconds… split seconds, obviously for Jane to say her own version of their ‘I love you’ anthem, as it’s their tradition.
Jane just stood looking vacant, like she was lost in thought and in a world of her own, somewhere she couldn’t be reached. She removed the phone from her ears and stared at it angrily till the line went dead. She felt like smashing the phone on the concrete stairs in front of her. She has become too enraged and angry already. Turning her back, she headed into the building before she would do something harmful to herself. Maybe someone more elderly will save her from this trauma.
Maximilian readjusted in his seat, displaying the full poise of a well-trained doctor he is, or better still, youngest consultant in the Lugard house Hospital. Most people call him lucky, others call him the ‘brain box’, but he only see all he has amassed this early in life as a product of grace and God’s blessings on his little self. Frankly, the kind of speed he had in this career and professional pursuit sounds very impossible in the ears of others. In fact, some doctors who were already senior registrars when he was only a house officer still at the same level but for him now the story has changed. They seem to have remained there while he climbed cautiously on their back to where he is now.
Working in the State government’s hospital, though demanding, seem to be the best thing that could ever happen to any man in his sight. There were times while treating, he kept wondering how vulnerable those mouthed politicians could become right in front of him. No one can better explain than him in particular. He could recall the apprehension he felt the first time he was asked to come and treat the state governor some times ago. He couldn’t bring himself to believing it as it sounded too real to be true. It was like a childhood dream coming true.
“How are you doing today, Doc?”
He rose up to receive the hand stretched forth to him
“I’m pretty well sirs…” he said, offering them a seat at the other side of the table he is sited on. He waited till they were both comfortably sited before taking his. “…and I hope it is coming through all along?”
One of the men pulled a deep breath in and glanced quickly in the direction of his friend sitting beside him. His glance was so quick one would think something tortured him from within.
“I… I… I really don’t know what to say doctor…” He managed to voice out after a while.
Max sat up from his seat. His hands were fixed into one another tightly as he dropped them on the table; the position he always takes whenever he is about to pay keen attention to his patients. For him, it awakens all his senses, especially the sense of sight. His gaze needed to be fixed on the man talking as part of correct medical observation, bearing in mind the fact that eyes don’t lie.
“Can you just try? Just say it as it is. Anyhow.” Max tried to plead with his eyeballs still penetrated deeply into those of the man sitting at the edge of his chair nervously. His face bare some shades of helplessness and that was somehow discomforting to Max as his eyes begged him to talk faster.
“Things have gotten too messed up than estimated now” was the first response from the man that sent Dr Max into a long train of deep thoughts.
Udale dropped the text in her hand immediately her ‘work-daughter’ as she fondly referred to Jane walked in. “Power of a praying wife”, one of her favourite books. She is reading it for the fifth time already and she finds it fascinating all the times she read it. The older woman kept a curious and concerned look on Jane, for obvious reasons of course. Jane never wears a long face no matter how bad things get at the office or how busy the day has been for her. She cheers and lights everyone’s countenance up all the time. Jane had this inner joy streaming from her inside all the time and seeing her sinking into the padded chair right now, with face as dour as an unyielding rock, was a call for big concern.
“If you perhaps voice out what is eating you up, only then will I be able to come to your assistance.” Udale said after watching the young nurse turn from one side to another restlessly on her seat for several minutes.
Jane swallowed bitterly. Her eyeballs were red and watery. She shouldn’t be doing this now; when in a pained mode, she would rather return to her shell -somewhere secluded - without distraction to settle herself by herself. Why she chose to come to the matron’s office this time was not such a clear idea in her head. The anger keeps spilling out, like acidic juice pouring and ulcerating a smooth surface. It feels as if someone’s trying to ruin her life, be a burden to her on purpose, as if the universe is in on some plan to ruin her. At this point, she knew she needed to vent out her frustrations, explain all these feelings to someone, just anyone that can at least connect to the tussles of keeping a distant relationship.
“Mummy, Max frustrates me even more these days…” the stream of tears formed in her eyes had started to flow now, she was crying this time, “… at times I feel selfish for complaining, for lamenting, and for wanting too much but here I am… I am dying inside from hurt and pain.” she ran her right hand through her long dark weave, scattering the once neatly combed hair.
Udale who was looking at her in awe initially smiled broadly when Jane started crying,
“Inasmuch as I don’t know our dear Max, at least I know he calls you for long hours every day right?” Udale pointed questioning eyes towards Jane and she responded with a deep sigh before talking,
“Long huh? It is long but very shallow” she wiped at a tear drop. Udale drew out the drawer of her table, pulled out a handkerchief from the pack and handed it over to Jane, “I want something deep and real, a kind of heart to heart conversation but patients won’t let me have time with my man. I need something tangible and deep…”
“Apart from the fact that your story was everywhere in this office when I returned from leave, I’ve also stayed here for quite some time to testify to its absoluteness.” Udale’s smile did not disappear even when seeing Jane wasn’t going to smile, no matter what, today.
Jane hit her hand hard on the wooden table and got up. She walked over to the shelves just beside her madam’s side of the table and like someone standing up in search of something she wasn’t finding, she walked back to and fell back into her chair tiredly again.
“You know what, Mummy?” she started, casting her gaze on Udale, “…dad and his are best of friends. Their children must get along – so they said, so they wished. We didn’t object, we already loved ourselves from way back. Waiting back here for him while he ran his residency, or what is it even called again?” she questioned, “… yes! Residency na. Residency and consultancy in faraway Houston. In fact, it is one of the biggest sacrifices I have made in life for anyone…” her first finger is on the side of her wet lips, “…now he is done and all, yet I have to compete unfavourably with all these patients and appointments mantra, how long more will I do this?”
Udale cleared her throat with that little smile still dangling somewhere around her face. The girl’s situation which she isn’t just getting aware of – she was quite close with Patron Odaudu, Jane’s father, her predecessor and though official, they had at one point meandered into that line of discussion before, is somehow similar to hers. She had been the one praying, at those times Matthew was at home jobless, that God should provide him a good job. Now the job is here, with all its mouth-watering fringe benefits, but it’s taking a long toll on their marriage big time. At this point, she has to select her words wisely. Whatever she will say to this young girl right now might determine a lot of things and she can’t afford to ruin her relationship with the unknown Max. There is no wisdom in rattling with her too.
“I think the question shouldn’t be much about how long more. It should rather be, ‘How much more am I ready to sacrifice myself for this man I claim to love?’. This is what will lead you better.”
Jane opened her mouth to talk immediately but as though a second thought popped up in her head, she closed it back. She cleaned her eyes with the back of her hand. This part of the speech has been haunting her even before now.
Episode 19
He walked in, holding a grey file containing white papers. One could tell what was in the file because the doctor was flipping through them all the way from the door to his seat. He is a little advanced in age and it’s still quite amazing that he didn’t use eyeglasses even up till now or at least for the very many times Matthew and his wife had travelled down here to visit. He is quite nice as well, peradventure, that’s why Matthew stuck with him in helping with their issues. Else a typical Matthew would have been worn out with doing the same thing – seeing the same person – over and over again, but they had to come down here regardless of the distance from Ankpa in Kogi state to the University of Nigeria Teaching hospital, Nsukka, Enugu state. The distance meant nothing to them. In fact, they don’t mind going all the way out just to get a reasonable solution. They are both running out of time and if there is one thing that has been included in Udale’s daily itinerary; it is counting how closer to her menopause she gets by each passing day. The doctor told them the last time they visited, which was two months ago that things looked better, ‘there is hope’ was exactly what he said. Virtually everyone, including the blind, know that doctors would always find an iota of hope to hold onto in every situation, no matter lethal and fatal. That, definitely, must be a part of their training at school. If not, Dr Nonso must be really doing a mighty job at still putting the soul and body of this couple in one piece.
“How has it been with Obaje?…”
Matthew gave a horrible look back at the doctor, his shocked eyes begging him to shut his mouth.
Dr Nonso got the message and changed the topic almost immediately.
“Have you considered the option?” He asked, raising his eyes from the papers in his hands and placing them on the duo sited in front of him. He scanned through their eyes and in no time got the answer to his question from there.
“Who is ‘Obaje’ or what did you say now, Doc” Udale asked, looking all curious.
“Look, I strongly suggest that you try to consider this as the best available option. You have almost nothing to lose. We have the best hands here and reliable equipment too.” He tried to persuade, neglecting Udale’s question as though he didn’t hear her in the first instance.
Matthew sat up in his seat. He removed his hands that were earlier folded across his chest and placed them on his thighs. Sitting like he intended to get up anytime soon, he began by clearing his throat.
“So are you now saying doctor, that nothing else can be done? Or that our waiting is in vain?”
The doctor swallowed and dropped the file on the table. “The situation should improve. You both are doing well at the recommendations. I’m very hopeful and optimistic that your baby would come in no time from now.”
Matthew shrugged.
“It’ll be seventeen years by October, doctor” Udale cut in. It was as though the statement was a trigger because hot searing tears began burning down her face afterwards. Matthew, as always, felt irritated and instead of holding her hands in his as at other times, he just ignored her and focused back on the doctor.
“If the situation is improving… or did you say should improve?” he waited to get a confirmatory nod from the doctor, “Whatever! If our situation should improve with time as you said and I believe you know what you are saying, why are you now encouraging us to take that option?”
“I know I’m going too personal, what I’m about to do is not totally in line with the ethics of the medical profession…” he clears his throat, “…but Matthew, I see you as a younger brother…”
Matthew’s eyes popped open as though he was just struck by a ghost but the doctors soft smile eased him a bit. He hoped for the sake of the doctor’s head that he would not bare out his secrets right here.
“I have all your records, you have been seeing me for many years now, so believe me when I say I am an elder brother.” He affirmed, leaving the smile plastered on his face. If only he knew what was going on in Matthew’s head, he wouldn’t be smiling comfortably at this moment.
“I have seen your love and affection for each other deteriorate and dwindle down the lane slowly over time as you come visiting. You are no longer the strong, resilient, and courageous couple that I have been attending to for some years now. Experiences I gathered from people with issues like this is that they would both wear themselves out one day in the end of it all and may then decide to separate or even divorce. I don’t want you to get to that point. Look at U-u-da-le now…” he pronounced the name as though his tongue was outstretching, “…she is, every day, reducing to a shadow of herself. And you too. You are only trying so as not to feel lesser than a man.”
Matthew took in a very deep breath.
“We have the best hands, we have the best tools and equipment. You have nothing absolutely to lose. Consider this my brother.” The doctor’s last tone was deep and it really sank in but Matthew didn’t seem to be having any of this.
Udale held Matthew’s hand, “Honey, maybe we should just do it…” she sniffed, “…we have faced enough ridicule, I can’t bear it any longer. You know the risks of complication increases with age, right? Honey, please let’s do this. We would soon be honoured twenty years of childlessness.” Her voice was still breaking all through her statement.
Matthew sprung up from his seat and the doctor’s eyes followed him all the way up.
“Maybe, we would wait till it’s twenty. Let’s go Udale.” He said, looking down at his wife who felt so relaxed like it was her house. He turned to the doctor, “ Thanks a lot for your concern doctor. Thank God there is no new adverse development. We would be leaving for Ankpa now.”
“It’s my job. Safe journey on the road” Dr Nonso responded, “… don’t forget to …” he paused on a second thought, taking Matthew’s hand courteously before watching them till they walked out through the door.
He shook his head over and over, from the left hand side to the right.
“Of course not. I didn’t. I gave no clue that would let the cat out of the bag, did I? No! I didn’t.” he tried to convince himself as he powered his laptop.
“I spent my holidays at Obudu cattle ranch. Daddy promised he would take me there if I took first position in class and I enjoyed every bit of my stay there with animals and wild lives.” Her sharp voice ran through the air.
“Clap hands for Helen Obinna”
The whole class resounded with thunderous applaud as the instruction came.
“You know, I don’t know what to say to the boys in this class. You would sit and watch ladies occupy the positions from first to eight? That’s embarrassing. Girls clap hands for yourselves again”
“Myself God bless me, and make me wiser, Amen…” came the usual chorus that accompanies an applaud. The class in no time became quiet again and it seems Laibe could hear everybody’s heartbeat. She was the next person to talk. She was the last to give the account of her last holidays. Right from when Kabir, the boy on the last row started speaking, she has been rehearsing how she was going to say her part. Her English mastery wasn’t the problem now, far from it, she has improved a great deal. Her problem remains her problem.
“You know, one person’s result surprised me last term so much so that I felt really ashamed for some of you here…” the form teacher pointed her long sharp-edged cane at some persons as she move closer to them, especially the boys. Everyone dreaded her, she is very strict and disciplined and being the form teacher for their class didn’t make matters any easier. This is even one particular time they dreaded the most, she had warned them sometimes last term ahead of time. When she would ask everyone to get up and recount their holiday experience while she makes her comment on their individual results because she has a copy of everyone’s.
“Well, everything is about setting priorities and goals right. I’m so proud of this little girl.” She continued, walking back from the back of the class she just strolled to, towards the white board. “To think that she joined you all in second term and you were at some points teasing her, she came in the eighth position out of the thirty-two of you…” she turned in Laibe’s direction, “…I’m sure her guardians were so proud of her. Can you all stand up to give a round of applause for Laibe Godwin as she shares her holiday experiences with us?”
The class went up in thunderous applaud again and Laibe felt even more uncomfortable in her head. It was as though her past few minutes of rehearsal were all washed off and dementia has suddenly set in. She got up and walked slowly towards their teacher, that front served as the podium everybody used ever since. As she walked, she tried to shut her eyes but she couldn’t. Or better still, she didn’t want to. She wouldn’t be liking and ultimately not needing what she would be seeing if she did. She needed all the boldness there is to successfully finish this speech. The applaud kept going higher and higher as she approached her form mistress. The latter hugged her and stepped aside.
Laibe stood still for a moment. Trying to steady herself, she placed both hands on the table in front of her. She shut her eyes and opened it back immediately.
“No!” she exclaimed.
Everybody focused all attention on her, wondering what she was saying no to.
She formed her face into a sweet smile, encouraging herself to continue none regardless.
“Uncle said he would take me to Confluence beach If I perform well in the exams. That, in addition to my own long-time dream propelled me into action. And with the relentless assistance from Helen, my friend, I was able to make uncle proud…” she paused and looked in Helen’s direction. She was giggling and chuckling. They had become close from that day she helped her out with the definition of ‘capital’. Helen grew to like her so much that she even moved over to come use her table and they had been seat mates since then. She couldn’t have prayed for a better friend than Helen in that class. Helen made sure they read constantly, spending their prep hours and some Saturdays in the school library, after which, she would still give her assignments to take home. Helen is definitely the persons that should take the greatest credit for her success in that exam. Laibe saw the whole class looking on at her with curiosity written all over their faces. If only their eyes could drag the words out of her mouth.
“True to Uncle’s promise, we went to Lokoja and we went to confluence beach. A place I’ve always dreamt of going all my life. We spent three days there and had a beautiful experience, and had a memorable experience, and had…”
She held her head, trying to stop her brain before it embarrasses her but it was too late.
“No!!!” she screamed again as the scene flashed through her mind. This time the scream wasn’t only loud but it provoked tears. She dropped to the cement floor, thrust her head in-between her hands and started wailing loudly. Helen immediately ran over to her and tried to pull Laibe up, but she wasn’t yielding. The teacher initially couldn’t get up because of confusion but had to when she saw almost half of the class were already at where Laibe lay weeping. Could this be a joke? She thought to herself.
“Alright…” she said loudly, alerting the students that their time was up and she needed to take over from there. They started leaving for their seats one after the other while she tried to raise Laibe’s face up.
Her eyes were red, so red that it could stain a white material if placed on it. The form mistress kept getting more and more confused by each failed attempt of trying to raise the damsel off the floor.
“Alright, everyone, you can now go for your break” she announced, and as though some couldn’t wait for the words to barely leave her mouth, they were already en route the canteen. It was no fault of the students, the form mistress was using their break time to do this class assessment. Helen came over and they both held Laibe up. She was still crying and unable to steady her feet on the floor. Every single cell in her body was vibrating at a dangerously high frequency. At this time, Miss Mary thought to take her to the school clinic before Laibe would faint or pass out in her hands. She placed one of Laibe’s hands across her neck and Helen did the same as they walked out of the classroom and towards the administrative building.
Stepping out of the corridor into the open compound, Laibe encouraged or rather, advised herself to have a grip on her tears. Yeah! If she wastes it now, what would she have to use tonight? Her pillow has been graciously enjoying soaking activities for sometimes now, and she didn’t know when it was going to end. She hopes it ends soon enough. Well, maybe when that horrible scene stops flashing through her mind, they may have to format her brain to achieve that anyway. She held herself up and brought down her hands from the neck of the two persons holding her. She looked forward and saw they were entering the reception of the administrative block already but then she prayed who her eyes just sighted wasn’t who she is thinking. Let it just be familiar or her imaginations.
“I guess I would have to wait for longer than two hours to see you when you become the governor of the state.”
Miss Mary’s face turned in the direction of the voice. Laibe was surprised that she is just noticing the person. Releasing Laibe’s hands, she hurried over to the edge of the room where she sat.
“It’s different for we teachers my dear. We are not Nurses” opening her hands for a hug.
Jane rolled her eyes and pouted… “Whatever!” falling into a warm embrace.
“You should have called” Miss Mary responded,
“After posting coming to visit you for the past three months? It was meant to be a surprise, Punk” she teased, hitting Mary on the head. Jane had always been like this anyway. Right from nursing school, she can be so nonchalant to a fault. Imagine Jane calling Mary a punk before her students.
“Is the reception your office?” Jane asked sarcastically as she obviously has become tired of seeing the receptionist’s face. Helen chuckled at the question and only then did Jane remember Mary walked in with two other people. She looked in their direction and something told her to move forward to confirm.
Laibe felt like disappearing into the ground as she felt Jane was walking over to meet her. Her white shirt, maroon skirt and pullover were stained with dust from the floor she fell on some minutes ago. What would she tell sis. Jane – as she normally calls her – now.
“La-i-be!” Jane dragged the name. It dragged so long that one would be tempted to think she had forgotten how to pronounce it. How can she forget? Her Matron’s daughter, the girl she had spent numerous hours together with in the house. She saw as Laibe felt uncomfortable and that bothered her more.
“You know her?” Mary asked Jane
Jane nodded in the affirmative. Miss Mary smiled and called Helen. It feels like there is a little relief now. She gave the little girl five hundred naira, ordering her to get something, food, drinks and snacks for her visitor from the canteen. Helen ran off as soon as the command was issued.
Mary led them to her office. Normally, most teachers had their tables in the staffroom. Only her and two other teachers have a little calved out office respectively to themselves. Her case is especially different because she is the Biology teacher in the senior classes, Js1 form mistress and the school’s health officer. The first aid box and the other emergency apparatus for this ‘mini school clinic’ that doubles as her office are kept under her charge. Not everyone has a father that can link her up into a government hospital to start work immediately after school like Jane. She believes life comes to those who believe and only T, time, is the difference between HERE and THERE.
Jane sat just beside where Laibe sat as well.
“My sister, what is wrong and why are you crying?”
“Ask her o…” Mary cut in, proving that the statement has been lingering in her mind all along.
Laibe just looked blank as her form mistress narrated the event that just took place in the class. The accuracy with which Miss Mary narrated it was marvelling and at a point, she was beginning to think the woman had a video covering the scene after all.
“…I didn’t even know that it was Matron Udale you were telling me is your madam and friend all this while. Please help me ask your kid sister, how narrating her holiday experience would cause tears. I mean, she said she went to confluence beach for that matter.” Mary lamented. Laibe’s heart skipped a bit as she heard the name confluence beach again. That phrase does something to her inner soul.
Jane drew closer to Laibe and held her hands, “Remember, you told me you had always longed to go there. When your result came out, you called with Mummy’s phone to tell me you made it. Also remember, I was there, the morning you and patron travelled. You promised me you were going to enjoy every bit of your holiday...” She paused and sunk her eyes into Laibe’s, “… what happened there that’s making you cry, Laibe.”
Laibe swallowed painfully. The tears were beginning to well up back in her eyes and everyone could see the deliberate attempt she was making at stopping it. She is caught between two balls here. Telling Sis Jane would make no difference because if she doesn’t, Jane would report the whole scenario to her aunty and she didn’t want to imagine what the outcome of that would be. But the words were so heavy in her heart. It was like a big large ball, firmly stuck to the walls of her vocal cords not letting the words flow out. She continued looking from one person to another, not still knowing what to say.
Thankfully, Helen knocked and walked in with the numerous things Miss Mary asked her to buy. Dropping them on the table, she dashed out of the room without talking to Laibe. That was quite unusual. Just when Laibe thought she had escaped the hot seat,
“Laibe, we are waiting…”
She heard Miss Mary say from the corner she sat, paying rapt attention.
Episode 20
Udale opened the bathroom door halfway again and handed Laibe a milk silky towel without looking in.
“Be faster, let me show you how to fix this,” she added as Laibe’s wet hands collected the towel. She moved backwards to sit on the bed. Her eyes scanned through the room in quick successions, only then did she realise that she hasn’t really been in this room in a really long time. She can however give kudos to this little girl’s sense of neatness. Everything in the room looks very tidy, and her laundry bag beside the door was even empty. When did she do this laundry? Udale questioned herself. She knew she hasn’t been performing optimally in her duties as a mother after all and it bothered her a lot. She has solace in a little fact though, Laibe and Matthew had gotten very much along. So much so that at times, she feels jealous of Matthew’s attention to the little girl. Laibe can’t possibly become promiscuous, not when she is always in the house and under the close watch of Matthew and her.
“Girl, be a bit fast dear!” she said calmly but loud enough for Laibe who was tarrying in the bathroom to hear.
“I’ll soon be out aunty” came her sharp response
Udale sighed. She is tired; tired of the journey down from Enugu this evening; tired of her childless condition; and more tired of her husband’s resistance in conceding to a procedure that would salvage the situation. Stretching her hand, she pulled one of the pillows closer to her. She was taken aback as a paper drop from it. Alarm rang in her head but she calmed herself down. Picking up the white paper and turning to the other side, her jaw almost dropped to the ground at what she saw - a teenage girl was struggling with dragging a heavy stone from a bushy, wet and slippery area towards a rickety Peugeot car standing some distance away. The drawing was so perfect, it looked like a camera captured it but then it was pencil drawing. The girl in the picture looked exactly like Laibe and the area looked familiar to her but her brain couldn’t fathom it just yet. As though, that painting she saw opened her eyes afresh, she began to notice some other things in the room. First, Laibe’s dressing table contained different expensive skin care products. Yes, she bought some for her, but the other brands of body cream with perfume and face cleanser of the same product, she didn’t buy that. Her curiosity increased even more and she stretched to open the bed side drawers, unconsciously hoping Laibe wouldn’t come out yet. A little sparkling red box shone on her eyes from the inside of it. Udale dipped her hand and brought out the box, opened it and lo, a dazzling silver wristwatch shone brightly on her eyes. This is incredible, she thought! Not as incredible as another medium sized greeting card underneath the wristwatch.
“Stay cute,
Stay pure,
Stay beautiful,
Those are the words on the card. Turning the card hurriedly back and forth, she was disappointed there was no name neither was there any identity of the sender on the card. Hearing the door knob move, Udale took a deep breath and sat down beside all the things she had seen and arranged beside her on the bed awaiting Laibe. The girl sure has so many explanations to make.
Laibe had actually finished bathing and was about to come out when a thought came to her mind to peep through the door hole. Thank God she did. Her aunty was opening her drawer. She saw her pillow had also shifted from where it should be. Right there and then she knew she was done for. Hell might let lose tonight if she is not choosy and extremely careful with her response. And of course, she is still praying Sis Jane hadn’t related the ordeals of the day with her aunt as it would only add to the numerous explanations she would have to give when she gets out. Peeping from there all through her aunt’s movement in the room, she decided to come out immediately the older woman sat back on the bed. Laibe cannot afford her aunt calling her again. All the incidents of today are like terrible accidents waiting to happen and it’s just so unfortunate she is wrapped in it again. She felt her mind racing. Cautioning herself, she needed to be strong if she must give any explanation at all and of course, she prayed that horrible scene doesn’t flash back in her mind in front of her aunty as well tonight.
She opened the door and her slippers was still making slap slap sound against the carpeted floor even when she was walking really slow, almost crawling. Her knees were shaking and she couldn’t guarantee any faster pace than this. Her aunt’s eyes kept staring at her right from the door till she got to her front. It took extra caution for her not to drop to the floor from those eyes piercing her soft chocolate skin. She is gradually becoming an adolescent.
Udale brought out one from the packet of new panties she bought.
“Where did you keep it?” She asked Laibe.
Laibe, knowing what her aunty was asking for, quickly hurried over to her dressing table and brought the sanitary pad aunty gave her some minutes ago before going to the bathroom.
“Once you know how to wear it, you can be sure of going about your normal activities without fear of getting stained. Do you understand?” Aunty Udale spoke while collecting the pack from Laibe’s hands. She took one from it and tore it open before picking back up the pant she held earlier,
“Now, cleanliness is the rule of the game henceforth. Make sure to have your bath, dry up and change the pad regularly, OK? It is not earring that you would wear twenty four hours. Change it after six hours max, full or not. Is that clear?” She got a quick nod from Laibe and continued, “This is how to fix it…” she pointed Laibe’s eyes to every step she took and Laibe paid rapt attention with her eyes as well, though her mind was running somewhere around the house. Her aunt asked her to go put on something loose before they’ll go have their dinner. As she moved to her wardrobe, she was even in much more confusion than before. It is utterly impossible for her aunty not to say anything about the strange things she had seen in her room, not when those things were sitting beside her on the bed also.
“So you now follow boys, Laibe”
The question didn’t take her unawares, she has been expecting it since she got out of the bathroom.
“No ma” she responded politely, pulling one of her flowery flare night gowns from the wardrobe.
“Who drew this and why is it under your pillow? Oh! It helps you sleep well, right?” sarcasm filled Udale’s tone as she asked the question like a statement.
“That drawing was the day Ocholi brought me from Ofabo. When we got back the next day and Uncle had a visitor and you asked us to pack loads from the car into the kitchen, Ocholi told me he had a surprise for me in my room…” she paused
“Eheeen!!!” Udale interjected curiously
“ He gave me the drawing as a gift. A time during our journey that I went to get a stone from the bush to use as wedge for the car that broke down.” she explained, pointing at the bush and the stone in the picture.
Udale heaved a sigh of relief. It’s an insider, it should be easier dealing with this. If there is anything she could vouch for in Ocholi was his photographic memory as he only needs to see it to reproduce it back on paper.
“So the both of you are in a relationship under my roof and under my very nose, is that so?”
This one took Laibe unawares, more so that her aunt’s voice was beginning to rise now. In a relationship is a relative term if you asked her. She could go with being in love with him, or having a crush on him as it were, but she couldn’t understand what her aunty meant by that question.
“Don’t play dumb on me Laibe. Why is he buying you all of these…” she raised each item on the bed as she spoke, “…a greeting card, beautiful wristwatch and Diva skin care products, if you both are not in any relationship?”
The merciless torment was beginning to roll back in Laibe’s mind as her aunt spoke. She clenched her fist tightly, so tight that it feels as though she could lock everything up in her palm. The AC in the room was on, aside that she just had her bath but she had begun to sweat profusely. She kept mopping blankly at her impatient aunt and the woman wasn’t finding the whole scenario peaceful anymore.
Udale got up and walked angrily to where Laibe was standing beside the wardrobe. Holding onto her hand roughly, Udale dragged her till she fell onto the bed.
“Did you hear me or not? Who bought all these for you? Why would Ocholi buy all these for you?” Udale yelled at the top of her lungs now.
Laibe’s silence was killing her. Laibe on her own side was shivering and fidgeting like a weed blown by hot Northern wind. She could barely raise her head up.
“I think I should inform your Uncle about this. You cannot give me high BP in my own house.” Udale threatened and made angrily for the door.
“It’s not Ocholi, aunty. Uncle bought them for me. He said they are gifts from the both of you.”
Udale got stuck at the door and unable to move any further. She turned to stare at Laibe for a whole long while not knowing what exactly to tell the little girl.
“Don’t let me call you to the dining table.” she said quickly and walked out at the drop of a hat.
“You ladies don’t want me to eat today, is that?”
“I’m sorry Honey, she is seeing her menses for the first time, I needed to put her through some things.”
Matthew sighed and dug his fork into the plate of rice in front of him. He had served himself immediately his wife came, after waiting for them for over twenty minutes.
“Where is my baby?”
And as though Laibe was following their discussion, she walked in and pulled a seat out.
“Good evening Sir.” She greeted without raising her head.
Matthew smiled as he ran his eyes over her petite body. Apart from the other early signs of puberty that the young girl has been manifesting in the past few months, he was unusually excited that she is ultimately becoming a woman now.
“I know you are clean, you have to be even cleaner now, OK? You are now a mini woman.” He added
Laibe nodded her head in the affirmative, again without raising it. She picked up her fork and also tried to move some drops of rice into her mouth.
“Jane said you were crying in school this morning when asked to narrate your holiday experience. Why was that?” Udale’s calm voice came.
Rice spilled from Matthew’s mouth as he heard his wife. He dashed a questioning look at Laibe who did everything possible not to get an eye contact with him.
Laibe cursed her luck in her heart. She just knew this would happen after all.
“Why can’t Sis Jane keep a singlele thing to herself?” she muttered with disappointment underneath her breath.
“Laibe… Laibe, is it a newly found habit not to respond to questions when asked now?” Her aunty asked, sounding provoked again.
Laibe quickly shook her head from side to side… “No aunty!”
“So why have you been playing dumb since? It was as simple as saying your uncle bought those things for you earlier…” Matthew’s eyes opened wide immediately, but he tried to not show his growing level of discomfort, “… you waited till I threatened to report you. Now, I’ll ask you for the last time, why were you crying in class today?” Her aunt’s voice came in screams this time. Obviously the woman has lost all her cool.
She should. Laibe’s silence was deafening and painful, and if there was any way she could pull the words off this little girls throat right now, she would.
“Sweets, I guess it’s all linked to her menarche. You people in the health sector always say there are many changes in the body and the hormonal flux at the beginning of menstruation can get one overtly emotional, isn’t that?” Matthew asked.
“This doesn’t look like hormonal effects to me Honey, crying instead of narrating her holiday experience is absolutely…”
“Baby you are over flogging this issue really. She hasn’t been crying ever since, so it’s just so normal to relate her over emotional reactions to this new development in her life. Isn’t it obvious?” Matthew interrupted before putting another spoon of rice in his mouth. He is as collected as always.
Laibe was grateful her uncle had come to her aid and she nodded her head as though the question was directed to her.
Udale kept quiet to think for a while. Why didn’t this occur to her since? She had rained all kinds of assumption on the innocent poor girl. Oh no! She didn’t just transfer her aggression and frustrations from the doctor’s visit on little Laibe, did she? The thought of this tortured her. If she cannot be so observant and considerate towards a teenager under her care, how was she going to cope with a bouncing baby who wouldn’t be able to give any explanations. She felt so horrible that she lost appetite immediately.
“Honey I think I should rest.” Udale said, getting up from the table.
“Be sure to rest well darling wife.” Matthew responded before turning to Laibe immediately Udale was up the stairs.
“We are sorry, OK?” He rubbed her thin shoulders lovingly.
Laibe quickly wiped at the lone tear dropping down her cheek. There was rice in her mouth, the same she had had all this while. The lumen of her throat had become blocked all of a sudden. She forced the rice down and quickly ate up the remaining in her plate in silence, though praying Uncle Matthew finishes his meal soon enough too. She needed to be left alone; to groom, to think and most importantly, to cry. Her eyes must never meet with her Uncle’s.
The room was extremely dark and as he rubbed his hand against the wall to find the wall switch, it seems the switch was running farther away. When he finally found it, he didn’t know if he should press it down or not. He will still do this after all, so why not do it now. If it would make the already bad situation any worse or better, that’s left to fate. Udale didn’t go to their bedroom, it’s usual for her to behave like that whenever she feels so horrible about anything. He would leave her to herself most times like that till she comes around and gets over the ill feeling. Tonight was different, lying on his bed all alone he had thoughts already creeping up in his mind. Getting all-a-Gog over the recent developmental stage, he felt even more compelled to do it. Running his mind over thousands of ways he could go about it, he encouraged himself to act notwithstanding.
Taking in five calming breaths, he pressed down the switch. The bright white light brought everything into clear view. He rubbed his tongue against his lips as though savouring in some invisible aroma. He was also trying to calm nervousness. She is deep asleep. He stood there for nothing less than ten minutes, staring and gazing at the whole form on the bed before he started walking gently towards that direction. He was so gentle that one would hear it if a mice walked through. And as it’s believed to happen when one is staring at you for so long, she turned and opened her eyes just when he barely got to the bedside. He felt her struggling and trying to recognise who it was. He watched quietly, imagining the possible struggles up her medulla at the moment; the way sleep usually clouds one’s vision most times.
To be continued..


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